Sunday 12 February 2012

Nat Johnson & The Figureheads - I'm Across, I'm Ashore

Album review by Andy L

Thirty seconds into opening track 'Astronomy', Nat Johnson offers up a frank confession: "The stars in my life, they are not, they are not what I'm looking for". Malcontent? Well you'd never guess it from what follows.

'I'm Across, I'm Ashore' is the fourth album from Sheffield songstress Johnson, the second to be backed by her four strong flock of Figureheads - the follow up to 2009's 'Roman Radio' long player - and a record that finds a seasoned writer, who may be discontented with her lot, but is completely at ease with her art.

Indeed, save for the occasional lyrical pointer, there is actually little indication here of a soul grappling with any inner struggle. Instead what we’re presented with is a collection of tracks that have a spring in their step and the freewheeling air of someone who has found the pleasure in strolling along their career path – a path that is lined with attractive melodies and an understanding that sometimes the simple approach can work best.

The benefits of keeping things uncluttered are displayed no better than on the twinkling acoustic meander of ‘Straw and Hay’ where Johnson’s velvety voice is given the room to show off its natural beauty. That’s far from the only highlight however. The aforementioned ‘Astronomy’ grabs top billing with its scuzzy intro chords and breezy chorus, 'Your Majesty' is sunny pop in the vein of The Sundays, while ‘I Know, I’m Good’ lopes along on the back of a determined guitar line. Elsewhere ‘Margot’ trys its hand at accessible post punk, while ‘The Harebell’ recalls Canadian indie popsters Stars, in its quiet, reflective approach – the picnic stop on our country stroll if you like.

That’s not to say, however, that everything comes up roses. At fourteen songs the record is perhaps overly long and the second half of the album is left to lag slightly in comparison to what has preceded. At other stages there’s a feeling that things might just be a little too content, with a couple of the folk-flavoured tracks veering dangerously close to The Corrs brand of radio safe MOR. Equally while closing number The Steeplejack is worth sticking around for, there’s a nagging sense that this LP should have gone out with something really special. All told though these are forgivable aberrations when set against the records high points.

Stumped for something pretty for your sweetheart or mood making for your man this Valentine’s day? Why not link hands and take a whimsical wander with Nat and her gang.

Nat Johnson & The Figureheads' website

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